President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) statement on China’s highly restrictive conditions on the nomination of candidates for the first direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 would be mere lip service if he does not follow up with actions and press China to respect the overwhelming desire of Hong Kongers to have a genuine democratic election.
Ma, who also serves as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, made the statement at the weekly KMT meeting on Tuesday, saying that democracy and rule of law are core values and long-term goals in Hong Kong, while Taiwanese from all walks of life are concerned about and supportive of Hong Kongers’ continuous efforts to strive for universal suffrage.
He urged Beijing to exercise wisdom, tolerate different views and search for consensus through peaceful means to come up with a positive response to the public appeal and stand by its promises to Hong Kong.
While noting the protests of Hong Kong activists and the voices of support in Taiwan, Ma’s words were simply platitudes, which Beijing will not heed.
The limits China sets on the election, to effectively veto candidates it deems undesirable, sends Taiwan the message that Beijing will not allow democracy to prevail in its territory and that autonomy given to its people is a privilege that can be revoked at any time.
With this understanding, Ma should have delivered the statement in his presidential capacity and condemned China over its decision.
The strongest term the Ma administration has used against China for reneging on its promises was “regret,” as the Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement issued on the same day the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee made the decision on Hong Kong.
However, another statement issued by the council that day to “congratulate” Macau’s re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui (崔世安) cast doubt on whether the Ma administration was serious about the demands raised by people not only in Hong Kong, but also in Macau, to implement universal suffrage.
It is unlikely that the Ma administration — set to pick up the pace on advancing cross-strait relations beyond economic issues to reach the phase where both sides would begin political dialogue, known as the “deep-water zone” — will review its cross-strait agenda because of the situation in Hong Kong.
Ma’s determination to proceed with his cross-strait agenda before his second and final term expires has been undeterred. Even the actions of former Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) — a top cross-strait negotiator accused of having leaked classified information to China — were characterized by Ma as merely a “ripple in the strong wave of cross-strait developments” that would not affect cross-strait negotiations.
Ma has been utterly dismissive of public concerns that cross-strait agreements reached by his administration might leave the nation in turmoil akin to that now present in Hong Kong. He said during an interview with the Chinese-language biweekly Wealth Magazine in June that the “one country, two systems” model in Hong Kong is irrelevant to Taiwan, whatever the results may be.
The response of the Ma administration in relation to the deprivation of Hong Kongers’ rights to democracy has been grossly inadequate. The principle that China will not tolerate outside interference in its internal affairs, as seen in the case of the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election fiasco, is to be somewhat expected. However, by failing to respond appropriately in support of a nation’s right to democracy sends a clear message to China and leaves Taiwan more vulnerable to the same principle.